Vasco Bridges III has taken his impressive academic background and his commitment to social change and community development into a career that is improving the economic landscape in Chicago.
Bridges is executive director of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses (10KSB) program at Harold Washington College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. The program, one of 25 throughout the country, is designed to help local entrepreneurs improve and expand their businesses, thereby increasing local employment opportunities and strengthening neighborhoods.
For Bridges, the position was what he calls “a good fit,” but it was not a career choice he envisioned years earlier. “My philosophy on career movement is about not mapping out a full five- or 10-year plan because you never know what’s going to happen,” he says.
“You always have to be in a position to take advantage of the next career step when it presents itself. You need the background and the training to do it, but you also need an understanding of what your ‘true north’ is so that when an opportunity comes along, you know if it’s the right one and you take advantage of it.”
So when a friend told him about the executive director position, Bridges relied on his inner compass.
With an MBA from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, a master’s in music business from New York University and a bachelor’s in economics from Rice University, Bridges was a strategy and operations manager with Deloitte Consulting before joining Goldman Sachs 10KSB in 2014.
He views community colleges as “a great avenue to help impact communities through economic and workforce development.” He adds that the 10KSB program “connects the needs of the local economy with the training we’re doing at the college.”
Heading up a project that joins community college education with small business enterprise was tailor-made for Bridges’ background — his three degrees, work experience and longtime interest in community service.
“I was working in my family business and working at Deloitte doing consulting, but I was always interested in how businesses grow,” he says. However, Bridges admits he hadn’t planned out his precise steps. “I never said I want[ed] to work in academia, or want[ed] to work at community college or even in this program, but I knew where it felt like my overall career was going. I always wanted to make an impact but I never knew how … but once I learned about this program I realized it was a good fit. It’s about understanding what your values are and when choices are presented, you know that it’s right [for] you.”
Along the way, he has demonstrated an interest in leadership and social justice issues. At the University of Michigan, Bridges was president of the Black Business Students Association and he is currently president of the Black Business Alumni Association.
In Chicago, he has been recognized for his leadership abilities. Bridges was selected as one of Chicago’s 2014 New Leaders Council Fellows. The NLC is a national nonprofit that states its mission as recruiting and training “the next generation of progressive leaders.” He also has been selected as a BE Modern Man by Black Enterprise magazine.
What he particularly enjoys about his latest role is that he is allowed to see struggling entrepreneurs — some of whom may never have previously set foot in a college classroom — learn to use sound business practices to become more successful.
Alumnus Quintis Millsaps extols the benefits of Chicago’s 10KSB. Millsaps is owner of Q’s Cleaning Service and a veteran entrepreneur who has been in business nearly two decades. He says the experience came at a pivotal point in his career. “I was doing a lot of things right, but I was also doing a lot of things wrong,” Millsaps acknowledges.
“I was feeling alienated, like people couldn’t relate to some of the struggles I was having.”
He credits teachers, mentors and fellow scholars with helping to guide him through difficult times. “The Goldman Sachs program showed us how to be more efficient and effective,” Millsaps recalls.
“The first day was the hardest because I had to be away from the business for eight hours. I learned that if your business can’t run without you, you don’t have a business, you have a job.”
Bridges has supervised completion of five cohorts representing 150 businesses in his year and a half as executive director. The results are closely monitored to ensure the program’s effectiveness. “We track employment numbers and revenue numbers to showcase the impact our program is having on these communities,” he says. That impact has been impressive, according to a 2015 report from City Colleges of Chicago and Mayor Rahm Emanuel stating that more than 70 percent of the graduates had increased their companies’ revenue and jobs within six months after graduation.
“When we grow our businesses, we grow our economy, our neighborhoods and our communities,” Bridges explains. “It means a lot to me to help these owners take their businesses to the next level so they will be able to compete with multinational companies.”